Plagiarism and its Prevention

Plagiarism and its Prevention

Tackling Plagiarism in the Early Secondary Years


Plagiarism appears to be an increasing problem as more and more students at secondary school and university are reportedly caught cheating on assignments, often using the internet. However, it is unlikely that plagiarism starts with these formal assignments – much more likely in the early years of secondary school or even at primary school. If our younger students are habitually copying and pasting material from the internet and presenting it as their own, then they are likely to be learning very little and are developing research habits which will damage their prospects in the future. This research looks at the incidence of plagiarism in the early years of secondary school – at its prevalence and causes; and also at strategies that might be adopted by teachers and schools to minimise it.

Author: Ray Le Couteur Publication Date: 2006 

Plagiarism appears to be an increasing problem as more and more students at secondary school and university are reportedly caught cheating on assignments, often using the internet. However, it is unlikely that plagiarism starts with these formal assignments – much more likely in the early years of secondary school or even at primary school. If our younger students are habitually copying and pasting material from the internet and presenting it as their own, then they are likely to be learning very little and are developing research habits which will damage their prospects in the future. This research looks at the incidence of plagiarism in the early years of secondary school – at its prevalence and causes; and also at strategies that might be adopted by teachers and schools to minimise it.


When I began looking at published research in this area, one immediate surprise was that nearly all information regarding plagiarism related to students at university or to coursework in the latter years of secondary school.  I found little information relating to younger students, which is where the problem needs to be tackled in the first instance. The information I did find mostly relates to the situation in the United States, although it is clear that exam boards in United Kingdom are becoming increasingly concerned with plagiarism and have only this year brought out joint advice for teachers responsible for coursework.


Also, in the United Kingdom the focus of approaches to the reduction of plagiarism appears to be on ways of spotting or catching plagiarism and warning students against plagiarism. In the United States, on the other hand, quite a lot of time and effort is clearly devoted to developing approaches to task setting and questioning which discourage plagiarism.  I will attempt to adapt these ideas for use here in United Kingdom and develop a short course of lessons in Information Literacy for Year 8 students at my school here in Chelmsford.


My work consists of three main parts:

  1. Initial research – used to develop a survey aimed at establishing the causes and extent of plagiarism in the early secondary years in United Kingdom; also to help me develop a teaching strategy to be utilised in a short course on combating plagiarism in the coming year.
  2. Investigating (by survey) the prevalence, attitudes towards and causes of plagiarism in my school.
  3. Applying the research and survey data to develop strategies to reduce plagiarism.




Background Research on Plagiarism (relating to the US)

Previous surveys in the United States have suggested that plagiarism is extremely prevalent in High Schools. In recent research by the Centre for Academic Integrity involving over 18,000 students at 4500 schools, about half of students admitted to plagiarising using internet. These results are not at all dissimilar to those in our own survey (see below) and simply serve to emphasise the scale of the problem.

Schwiebert (2002) quotes a national survey of High School Students in the US in which 54% of students admitted to plagiarising from the internet. She suggests three main strategies to tackle the problem. Firstly, educating teachers and students about plagiarism, secondly, designing research assignments that require original thought (rather than ‘find out’ activities) and thirdly, educating teachers in the detection of plagiarism. Johnson (1996) in a relatively early piece of work entitled ‘Copy, Cut, Plagiarize’ is clearly aware of the problem, suggesting that ‘The most effective means of preventing plagiarism involves educating teachers that an effective research assignment requires original reasoning by the student’.

McKenzie (1998) describes the use of the internet as giving rise to a new type of plagiarism, The New Plagiarism may be worse than the old because students now wield an Electronic Shovel which makes it possible to find and save huge chunks of information with little reading, effort or originality.’

Valenza (2000), commenting on the increase of copy/paste type plagiarism, states that ‘Simply going to the library or using the Internet to find facts about a topic does little to encourage learning in an information-rich world. Real life is about problem-solving and decision-making. It is more than reporting facts.  With basic information so easy to access, shouldn’t we now focus our students’ attention on questions that will challenge them to use information meaningfully – to think, analyze, evaluate and invent?


Survey at King Edward VI Grammar School (UK)

The survey was conducted in 2005 on all Key Stage 3 students (ages 11 to 14, over 300 in total) and a slightly adapted version of the survey was given to the teaching staff at the school. Some of questions in the survey were based on surveys by Joyce Valenza, Alan Dordoy and a survey from Doherty High School. However, since these surveys were targeted at older students, the questions underwent considerable editing. Questions were written, tested and rewritten a number of times. This was to try and ensure, as far as possible, that our young students had a clear understanding of what they were being asked. Particular care was taken into the presentation of numerical options.


Highlights of  Survey Results

  • 99% of students at Key Stage 3 have access to the internet at home.
  • On average, students are set approximately one ‘find out’ type of research task a week. In order to carry out these tasks, 18% of Year 7 students, 27% of Year 8 students and 35% of Year 9 students would normally use only the internet for this work; the majority of the remainder used the internet and books. Only 1% of students did not normally use the internet for research tasks.
  • The majority of students thought it would be ‘fairly easy’ or ‘not very difficult’ to plagiarise work without their teachers knowing.
  • 17% of Year 7 students, 31% of Year 8 students and 28% of Year 9 students thought that plagiarism is common in our school; the majority of others thought that some or most students do it occasionally.
  • Of the reasons cited for students plagiarising, by far the most commonly cited reason was laziness followed by ‘wanting to get better grades‘ and then ‘not being interested in the subject or assignment‘.
  • Students were surveyed on the type of plagiarism that occurs in the school: 24% of Year 7 students, 26% of Year 8 students and 34% of Year 9 students thought over 50% of all research work done in the year involved copying a paragraph from the internet and making small changes. Overall, the majority of students felt that at least 25% of research work carried out in the school involves this type of plagiarism. Well over a third of students felt that the same proportion of research work involves copying whole paragraphs from a book or the internet uncredited.
  • The vast majority of students (over 75%) who admitted to plagiarism were never caught.
  • Most parents either never mentioned plagiarism or rarely mentioned it. In Year 7 the response regarding teachers was the same. In Years 8 and 9, the most common response was that plagiarism is rarely mentioned by teachers.
  • The results of the staff survey (28 returns, approximately 50%) on plagiarism amongst students were remarkably similar to those of the students themselves, except that, quite unlike students the majority of teacher responses (57%) indicated that teachers ‘tell me I should not do it’ (referring to plagiarism), whereas a large majority of students (81%) suggested that teachers either ‘never mention it’ or ‘rarely talk about it’.


Comments on Survey Results

In many respects the results are not surprising. Plagiarism is generally perceived as easy, quite widespread and rarely detected.

The results regarding the specific types of plagiarism that occur do seem surprisingly high – and possibly cast doubt on their validity. However, a question regarding how frequently whole pieces of work were downloaded from the internet indicated that students were prepared to give negative responses if they are called for – 75 percent of students indicated that less than 10 percent of work involved this type of plagiarism. This response gives some credence to the much higher figures occurring elsewhere.

There were some interesting differences between the results in Years 7, 8 and 9. In Years 7 and 8 around 20% of students felt that being ‘not aware of doing anything wrong’ was a reason plagiarism; this dropped to less than 10% in Year 9.

A large increase in the use of the internet as the only source of information for research appears to take place between Years 7 and 9.

Teachers clearly think that they give more warnings against plagiarism than is perceived by students. This may be because the survey addressed KS3 students and perhaps teachers are more aware of their warnings regarding plagiarism in coursework higher up the school (although it was stressed in the teacher survey that the questions related to KS3).


Plagiarism in the United Kingdom

There is currently great concern about plagiarism in United Kingdom. An internet search on ‘plagiarism’ will bring a huge number of hits – the vast majority from university websites, usually relating to the detection and prevention of plagiarism. There are also numerous articles bemoaning the incidence of plagiarism in school coursework. Many websites are dedicated to information regarding the detection of plagiarism and a number of these are fee paying services. The Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ), on behalf of the UK examination boards, has this year (2005) issued specific guidance for candidates on plagiarism in coursework.

The JCQ also publishes plagiarism guidance for teachers and assessors – it is interesting that of the four web-based sources of information recommended, only one of these derives from the UK – that is the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) site, which now runs the Plagiarism Advisory Service website (

A number of points arise from these observations. Almost without exception plagiarism resources from within the UK are targeted at higher education or at the problem as it relates to coursework in schools. There are few resources relating plagiarism lower down in schools, and there appears to be an almost total absence of guidance and advice for teachers of students in this younger age group. Even the BECTA (British Educational Communications and Technology Agency) and QCA (Qualifications and Curriculum Authority) websites which target teachers, seem almost devoid of resources and guidance (as of August 2005).

The Situation in the USA

The situation in USA is in considerable contrast to that in the UK.  Higher education resources are readily available once again, but so are resources for teachers of younger students, and even for teachers in primary schools. Many secondary schools and even some primary schools publish their own plagiarism guidance for students online.

A lot of research has been done in United States on the prevalence of plagiarism, and into approaches to the reduction of plagiarism but, unlike in the United Kingdom, these are quite often targeted at students of all ages, and with an emphasis on ways of tackling the causes of plagiarism rather than on simply detecting it once it has occurred.

It is quite surprising that these two highly developed Western countries should have such contrasting approaches to the problem of plagiarism. It appears that the USA is attempting to tackle the problem at root through prevention, whereas the UK appears to be pursuing a rather more superficial ‘sticking plaster’ type approach.


Tackling Plagiarism

There are many sources available, both in United States and in United Kingdom, describing methods of reducing plagiarism (although those in the UK, as mentioned above are almost invariably targeted at the tertiary sector).  Many of these appear to focus largely on the detection and punitive aspects, and this still seems prevalent in United Kingdom. Recently published guidance from the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC), ‘Deterring, Detecting and Dealing with Student Plagiarism’, is an example.


However, authors in the US often seem to take a more holistic approach to the problem. Of the resources targeted at younger students, one of the most complete, with separate sections describing approaches for Elementary, Junior High and Senior High Schools appears to be ‘Junior High: Preventing Internet Plagiarism’ by Cynthia Peterson.  The strategies that she outlines for Junior High School (corresponding to the age of our Key Stage 3 students), can be summarised as:

  • Classroom strategies (which include teaching students about plagiarism, why it is wrong and how to avoid it).
  • School wide focus (which includes school-wide policies on plagiarism, and a requirement to always cite sources).
  • Designing assignments to discourage plagiarism (which includes making it difficult directly copy and paste by requiring a different or unusual format, or requiring a product in a different media or ensuring that the task requires decision-making from information from a variety of sources).
  • Designing the process to discourage plagiarism (including handing in notes and printouts with a final project, requiring bibliographies, checking drafts as work progresses).

(This is a very brief synopsis and those interested should consult the original.)

This more holistic approach – which does include the detection and punitive aspects – places rather more emphasis on the school, the teachers and how they can work together with students to reduce plagiarism.


Peterson also refers to Mackenzie (1998) who, in his article ‘The New Plagiarism’, describes ‘Seven Antidotes’ to the problem, which emphasise the importance of asking what he describes as ‘Essential Questions’. These are the questions that are at the top of Bloom’s Taxonomy and require higher-level thinking skills of students such as synthesis and evaluation – as opposed to closed fact-finding type questions.

Changes to questioning based on this type of approach might include:


‘Find out about D-day’ becomes ‘Why didn’t D-Day take place on the 4th June?’

‘Find out about the Kyoto treaty’ becomes ‘How would the Kyoto treaty be affected if the US had signed?’


’Which whales are in danger of extinction?’ becomes ‘What is the best way to save whales from extinction?  Why is this the best way?’


‘What are the main tourist attractions in Barcelona?’ becomes ‘Which is the most interesting tourist attraction in Barcelona? Explain your choice’.


And if a Google search still throws up ‘ready made’ answers, then the source websites could be specified, so that any plagiarism becomes much easier to spot.


Diane Lewis, in her booklet ‘Inventory Your Teaching Toolbox’ uses the term ‘Flip/Flop’ to describe presenting information in a different or unusual format, or requiring a product in a different media – it seems a very appropriate term, evoking the idea of looking at something from a different perspective. Examples of this approach might include reformatting content using bullet points, producing a Mindmap, tabulating information with specific headings, making a comparison or using textual information to produce a poem or poster.


Lessons from Survey

The survey clearly showed that students think that the main cause of plagiarism is laziness – and this is not a very surprising result. Copying and pasting information from the internet is just so easy. A number of the strategies described above target the laziness aspect by making it far more difficult copy and paste an appropriate response.

Another significant cause of plagiarism identified by our students was lack of interest in the topic – a number of sources mention the importance of making research tasks interesting and relevant to students as a way of reducing plagiarism.

A significant number of Year 7 and Year 8 students mentioned being ‘not aware of doing anything wrong’ as a cause of plagiarism – this suggests that we need to teach explicitly about plagiarism, as suggested by Peterson, in terms of what it is, why it is wrong and how to use internet sources without plagiarising.

If intelligent students can get a good grade in a short time by copying and pasting from the internet, then surely we are promoting the idea that this is an efficient study technique. If we set a task that can be completed in this way then we, and the task we have set, are at fault. Mackenzie reflects this scenario when describing ‘The New Plagiarism’ where he comments ‘……. it is reckless and irresponsible to continue requiring topical ‘go find out about’ research projects in this new electronic context. To do so extends an invitation (perhaps even a demand) to “binge” on information.’  His primary recommendation is for us to look carefully at the tasks we set, and particularly the questions we ask – he describes ‘essential questions’ or ‘questions of import’ which cannot be answered by simply copying and pasting material from a single source; such questions typically have no correct answer – they are an invitation to discuss and respond to ideas and to argue a case. Mackenzie has even produced a ’Question Press’ which describes in detail the process of converting traditional ‘factual/find out’ type questions into ones encouraging higher level thinking skills (some examples are given on the previous page).

Summary Recommendations

So what can we do in schools to reduce the level of plagiarism at the lower secondary level?

Our approach is likely to include a mixture of whole school policies and strategies, together with the individual action of teachers. Steps towards this end are likely to include:

  • Educating students and parents about plagiarism and why it is wrong.
  • Insisting that students always cite sources.
  • Educating teachers about the prevalence of plagiarism and strategies to detect it.
  • Avoiding the use of low-level ‘find out’ type tasks.
  • Training teachers in questioning techniques, particularly the use of essential questions/questions of import and the use of the flip/flop technique – changing the format or the form of information.
  • Specifying details of the research process – such as collecting in copies of original sources, insisting on seeing draft copies of work, specifying websites to be used etc.


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References & Contacts

Doherty High School Media Center (2002) Report on Student Survey [Online]. Doherty High School. Available from: [Accessed 24 August 2005]

Dordoy, A. (2002) Cheating and Plagiarism: Student and Staff Perceptions at Northumbria. Northumbria Conference [Online]. Available from: [Accessed 23 February 2005]. No longer available.

JCQ (2005) Notice to Candidates [Online]. Joint Council for Qualifications. Available from: [Accessed 17 January 2006]

JCQ (2005) Plagiarism in Examinations. Guide for Teachers/Assessors [Online]. Joint Council for Qualifications. Available from: [Accessed 17 January 2006]

JISC (2005) Deterring, Detecting and Dealing with Student Plagiarism [Online]. Joint Information Systems Committee. Available from: [Accessed 25 October 2005]

Johnson, D. (2001) Copy, Cut, Plagiarize [Online]. Doug Johnson. Available from: [Accessed 6 March 2005]

Lewis, D. (2005) Inventory Your Teaching Toolbox. Diane Lewis, p.18.

Mackenzie, J. (2004) The Great Question Press: Squeezing Import from Content [Online]. From Now On. Available from: [Accessed 5 December 2005]

Mackenzie, J. (1998) The New Plagiarism: Seven Antidotes to Prevent Highway Robbery in an Electronic Age [Online]. From Now On. Available from: [Accessed 29 August 2005]

Mackenzie, J. (2005) The Question Mark [Online]. Jamie Mackenzie. Available from: [Accessed 29 August 2005]

McCabe, D. (2005) CIA Research [Online]. Centre for Academic Integrity. Available from: [Accessed 29 August 2005]

Peterson, C. (2003) Junior High: Preventing Internet Plagiarism [Online] Telus Learning Connection (TLC) Available from: [Accessed 25 October 2005].

Schwiebert, J. (2002) internet Plagiarism: How to Define It, Prevent It and Detect It [Online]. Cactus High School Library. Available from: [Accessed 29 January 2005]

Valenza, J. (2000) For the best answers, ask tough questions [Online]. Article from the Philadelphia Inquirer. Available from: [Accessed 31 August 2005]

Valenza, J. (2002) Cheating and Plagiarism Survey [Online]. Springfield Township High School Virtual Library. Available from: [Accessed 24 August 2005]

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